Loopholes, Chapter 28

(Start here.) (Or just go backwards.)

 

I stepped back from both of them.

“What?” Emily said.

“I know why they’re lizards,” I whispered. They both stared.

“Why?” Adam asked.

“So,” I said, clearing my throat. “I think we need to sit down.”

“But don’t we still need to meet the shadows in the tunnels…?” Emily said. And then when she looked at my face she said, “OK, OK, we’ll sit down.”

We’d gotten to the entrance of the scrubby little park, and we sat down on a park bench near the street. I brought my feet up, and hugged my knees, and took a deep breath. “Me and my dad used to play SimEarth a lot. Before he died, you know?”

“Sims?” Emily said. “I love Sims.”

“SimEarth is different from Sims.” I leaned my head back against the back of the bench. I could feel them both watching me. “You’re given control of the Earth when it’s a new planet. You control the atmosphere and the temperature and everything. You’re supposed to get life to evolve.” I took a deep breath. “Anyway, after he died, I played even more.” I’d played on his old computer. In his office, in the middle of all his scraps of paper and diagrams. Like somehow if I was there, I could undo what had happened. Except of course that’s stupid. You can’t undo anything.

“So the life you develop—it’s called sentient life. It’s who ends up being in charge, you know? You’re supposed to make it so humans develop, like the way it happened on earth, right? But it turns out that’s really hard.”

The whole park seemed really quiet, this Florida quiet that’s just heat and sun. “And once you’ve made life develop, you’re supposed to create this great world, you know? Like the world how it could be.” They both waited, Emily playing with the gravelly sand around the bench. “My dad was really good at it. But I wasn’t. Most of the time I couldn’t even get life to evolve, and when I did get life to evolve I always messed it up and it died out. And then one time, it actually worked.” I looked down then, like my feet were really interesting. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to tell them. Which was so stupid, because it was only a game—but still. I cleared my throat. “I got the earth at the right temperature, and with the right gasses, and everything. And life thrived. But because of some weird temperature variation or something, it wasn’t human life. You know, it wasn’t primates. It was lizards.” Everything was quiet, even the cars sounded muted and far away. I took a deep breath. “And—well, I wanted primates to evolve, you know? I was totally frustrated that they were lizards. So I did a mass extinction.” I tried to laugh. “There was a button for it.”

“You killed all the lizards?” Emily said. “After you tried so hard to make life evolve? Why?”

“It was just a game.” I didn’t tell her how bad I felt when I did it. “When you do it there’s this face of the sun in the corner all the time, sort of charting your progress, and when I did it the sun face said, ‘Why did you do that?’” I told Emily, like it was funny. Except it didn’t feel funny.

“What do you think it means, anyway?” she said, almost talking to herself. “The lizards are mad? They’re trying to show you what it means when you try to play god?” Emily shook her head. “It doesn’t make sense.”

“I know,” I said. “I mean think about what they really are.”

“Connections,” Adam said. “Maybe the shadows are destroying all the connections?”

“Or destroying all the good connections?” Emily said.

“Or maybe,” I said, “the shadows are doing to us what I did to the lizards.”

We were all quiet for a moment. “Like, pressing a button so we all disappear?” Adam said. “All the sentient life—the humans?”

“Maybe?” I said.

“Except that red-haired shadow,” Emily said. “She was sort of human, wasn’t she?”

“Human-like, maybe,” I said.

“Maybe they’re as grossed out by us as you were by the lizards becoming the sentient life form,” Adam said. “I mean, we’re not exactly good.” I looked up at him, surprised, and he stammered then. “I mean me, and, you know, humans in general, not you.”

I blushed, looking down. Thinking about throwing the phone, and yelling at Emily, and—just, how I was. “I’m not exactly good either,” I said.

“But it’s not everyone,” Emily said. “And we’re not all disappearing, poof, at the same time. I mean, my arms aren’t as bad as yours,” she said to me. “And Adam’s are better than either of ours.” We sat there on the bench and the dirt, looking at our arms. And the Emily dropped her arms. “Wait,” she said.

“What?” Adam and I were still looking at our arms. His really weren’t as bad as mine.

“My great-aunt, my father—they both have it too,” she said. “What about you?”

“My grandmother’s pretty bad,” I said, still looking at my arms. If you turned them in the light they actually looked almost cool, if you didn’t know what it meant.

“And wait,” Emily’s voice was almost trembling. “When you imitated your grandmother?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “What are you talking about?”

“When she says, ‘Alyssa? Enough?’ Remember?”

I dropped my hands on my lap. I was getting hot and uncomfortable and I could see the grassy space where I knew the door to the tunnels was. “She says that all the time. Alyssa! Is enough!”

“She has an accent,” Emily said.

“Where’s she’s from?” Adam asked.

“Germany. She escaped when she was a kid, so if you ask me the whole accent thing is a little bit fake, you know? I mean,” I grimaced. “I know she’s heroic and everything. I just wish she didn’t have to be so mean. And to, you know, hate me so much.” I was hoping they would tell me she didn’t hate me, but instead Emily was nodding her head.

“That’s it,” she said.

“That’s what?”

“Your grandma, my great aunt, the lizards,” Emily said. “It makes total sense.”

What makes total sense?” I asked, getting irritated. And then I stopped. Because I saw it too.

“Did your grandmother leave Germany, because,” Adam paused like he was embarrassed. “You know, Nazis and all of that?”

“Yeah,” I said. “So? You think they’re like, Nazi shadows?”

“My great-aunt,” Emily said. “She left Greece during the Armenian genocide.”

“So, both of them?” I said. “How does it work? What about Adam?”

“Well,” Adam sat back on the bench. “How are you defining genocide exactly?”

Emily and I looked at each other. “Well, it’s bad,” I said, and Emily scowled.

“The deliberate attempt to destroy an entire group of people,” she said, and when we looked at her, she said, “School report. I got an A. Especially,” she continued, “a specific ethnic group.”

Adam leaned his elbows on his knees and rested his face in his hands. “I don’t know if this even counts. But.”

“What?” Emily said.

He hesitated. “My grandfather always used to talk about how we were descended from the Mayans? And how if we were back where we came from we’d be kings, or something like that? Except almost everyone was destroyed.” He shrugged his big shoulders, or maybe he shivered. “We always thought he was crazy.”

“Find others in a similar situation,” I whispered.

“Maybe he wasn’t crazy,” Emily said.

I looked around at the little empty park, the garbage can overflowing with trash, and none of it made sense. “How could they be doing it?” I asked. “Just like—finishing it off?”

“Did they vanish?” Adam said. “The lizards in the game?”

“I don’t remember.” My skin felt cold. I didn’t want to look at it, to see the silvery tracings that I knew were there. “But if this is it….”

“Look, we have to find out,” Emily said, and she stood up, and brushed her sandy hands off. “And we have to stop them, right?”

Adam stood up, and I did too, and then Adam said, “Your arm.” I looked down. Except it wasn’t like an arm anymore. In the sun it looked like I was made of stretched-out pantyhose. I had to shut my eyes for a second. When I opened them I wouldn’t look at myself, I just looked at the two of them.

“Come on,” Adam said. “Let’s meet the shadows.”

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